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The Value of Adaptiveness in Insurgency Conflicts: The Case of South Africa and SWAPO in the Angolan Bush War, 1966-1989

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posted on 2022-08-11, 04:50 authored by Marcel Neuhoff

The scholarly literature on insurgencies and counterinsurgencies provides a myriad of explanations for their success and failure. These explanations include the influence of terrain, public support, military capabilities, ethnic cleavages, and military strategies to name just a few. Missing from many explanations, however, is the back-and-forth interaction between insurgents and counterinsurgents on the battlefield. More specifically, previous research has frequently overlooked the role of adaptiveness and initiative. This thesis contends that ‘adaptiveness’ is an important factor for explaining battlefield success and failure in insurgency conflicts. That is, the ability to efficiently react and adapt faster than the opponent to their changes in battlefield actions is a significant and often times overlooked contribution to success. This thesis examines the Angolan Bush War (1966-1989) as its primary case study. The speed of the belligerents’ tactical and operational adaptiveness to the other’s actions and counter-actions are observed and recorded. This, in turn, is shown to have a significant impact upon which side was considered to be ‘winning’ on the battlefield at different points. The thesis concludes by considering the value of adding the respective adaptiveness of insurgent and counterinsurgent forces to the factors contributing to battlefield success and failure in insurgencies. These conclusions also contain suggestions for the direction of future research and ‘lessons learned’ implications for counterinsurgency practitioners.


Table of Contents

1. Introduction -- 2. Literature Review -- 3. Adaptiveness in Practice -- 4. Case Study: Initial Period, 1973-1977 -- 5. Case Study: Adaptive Period, 1978-1982 -- 6. Conclusion and Policy Implications -- Reference list


Thesis submission date: 6/11/2020 for (FOAR8990) Master of Research

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes


Thesis (MRes), Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Security Studies and Criminology

Department, Centre or School

Department of Security Studies and Criminology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Adam Lockyer


Copyright: The Author Copyright disclaimer:




South Africa


68 pages

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